‘I was Born for This Job’: David Nichols Grew Up Riding the Rails

50 Year Honoree Nichols - Cab Photo | MR

Nichols, who hired on in 1972, first learned the rails from his father.

Growing up, David Nichols knew he was bound for a career on the rails. His father, Grady, was a locomotive engineer and introduced his son to the world of railroading at a young age.

50 Year Honoree Nichols - Wife | M

David Nichols with his wife, Judy.

"It was different back then; so, I'd get to ride with my father and watched and learned how to run a switch engine," Nichols said. "I knew the rails between New Orleans and Alexandria, Louisiana, before I ever earned a paycheck."

As he prepared to graduate high school, Nichols was certain about where life would take him. He was going to work for the Texas and Pacific Railway and submitted his application while still walking the halls of his alma mater.

"I was born for this job," he said.


David Nichols Celebrates 50 Years of Railroading

In 1972, Nichols hired on as a locomotive fireperson, which at the time was the career path to becoming a locomotive engineer. Less than a year later, he was promoted to the right seat — an accomplishment, he said, which was rather unheard of back then. His father had worked for 20 years before he could "hold freight."

The changes the younger Nichols witnessed throughout the years are countless, he said.

Positive Train Control (PTC) has been a welcome addition to his work life. He recalls the days of constantly going through work orders to ensure he was following the right instructions at the right time. PTC helps ensure this happens, he said. He's also a big fan of dynamic braking, especially when running on the historic 4.36-mile Huey P. Long Bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

50 Year Honoree Nichols - Ceremony | M

Nichols, left, with Clark Ponthier, senior vice president, Supply Chain, and a fellow Louisianian, at the May 17 ceremony in Omaha.

His first trip across the bridge came with a little anxiety. Nichols worried about what he'd do after his red signal turned green, but he knew his engine and made it up and across. A conversation later with his father yielded some tips on how to handle future crossovers. Those lessons stuck with him as he now pays it forward by informing other locomotive engineers of the ways of the rails between New Orleans and Alexandria.

"Dave is one of my best engineers," said Esser Williams, manager-Road Operations. "He not only shares his knowledge of that bridge, but he provides additional information so other craft professionals are set up for success; and he does it because he cares.”


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